Emergency crews raced to pull people from cars and homes as flood waters rose across southeast Texas on Sunday, rescuing over 1,000 people around Houston as Tropical Storm Harvey hit the region with “unprecedented” rain expected to last for days.
Harvey came ashore late Friday as the most powerful hurricane to hit Texas in more than 50 years and has killed at least two people. The death toll is expected to rise as the storm lashes the U.S. state for days, triggering record floods, tidal surges and tornadoes.
The storm has caused chest-deep flooding on some streets in Houston as rivers and channels overflow their banks. More than 25 inches (64 cms) of rain has fallen in some parts of the city, with the storm expected to dump a further 12 to 25 inches (30-63 cms) over the next few days, the National Weather Service forecast.
The total could reach 50 inches in some coastal areas of Texas by the end of the week, or the average rainfall for an entire year. Scenes of submerged highways and flooded homes in the nation’s fourth-largest city recalled the devastation that struck New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.
“This event is unprecedented and all impacts are unknown and beyond anything experienced,” the government’s National Weather Service said on Twitter.
The center of Harvey was still 125 miles away from Houston, and was forecast to arc slowly toward the city through Wednesday. Harvey was downgraded to a tropical storm on Saturday because its winds had slowed, but days of torrential rain are forecast. Texas Governor Greg Abbott, in a press conference, said new tornado warnings are expected later on Sunday.
The storm struck at the heart of the country’s oil and gas industry, forcing operators to close several refineries and evacuate and close offshore platforms. The Gulf is home to about nearly half of the nation’s refining capacity, and the reduced supply could affect gasoline supplies across the U.S. Southeast and other parts of the country.
The swift rise of flood waters surprised authorities and Houston residents with boats were asked to help with rescues. Emergency services told the city’s 2.3 million inhabitants to climb onto the roofs of houses, if necessary, to escape the water. People in Houston and other areas of Texas were asked not to leave their homes, even if they flooded, as roads were impassable.